The madcap comedian who mocked expertise
Irwin Corey 1914–2017
Irwin Corey was the world’s foremost authority on intellectual doublespeak. Wearing a tuxedo jacket and string tie and looking like a wild-haired professor, the comedian was a familiar presence on TV talk shows in the 1960s and ’70s, where he’d deliver a stream of academic-sounding gobbledygook. “The indication,” he declared one election year, “is that there will be a turnout that won’t come up to the expectations of those who, through their own analyses, have proved the percentages will only relate to the outcome.” His mockery of the elite reached an absurdist peak in 1974, when he gave an off-the-wall acceptance speech at the National Book Awards on behalf of Thomas Pynchon. Since the reclusive author of Gravity’s Rainbow had never made a public appearance, many in the audience mistook the prattling Corey for Pynchon.
Born in Brooklyn to a desperately poor family, Corey and his five older siblings “spent much of their early lives at the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum,” said The Washington Post. He started cracking jokes to cheer up his fellow orphans, and his partly improvised routine later made him a fixture in New York comedy clubs. In 1959, he launched a presidential campaign with the backing of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner. “I will run for any party with bottle in hand,” Corey declared.
A successful character actor, he played street-smart bunkum artists and eccentrics in movies such as How to Commit Marriage (1969) and Car Wash (1976). In his 90s, Corey found a new way to combine his leftist politics with madcap comedy, by tottering into Manhattan traffic and asking drivers for change, said Reuters.com. “He did not need the money for himself but donated it to a medical charity in Cuba.”